By now, I think most of my readers know more about my connection with water. Everything related to water attracts me spontaneously. I almost feel like I'm inside. Whether it is a sea, a lake, or a puddle at the farthest point of the world. The only thing that matters is that I know it.

I recently visited an ancient city. It has been the most impressive and fascinating place among all the places I have been to so far (I also plan to write an article about it). While I was there, I saw a group of black tourists visiting the temple; the guide was talking about the history and the sea under the road. We said hello to one of the middle-aged women and I asked where they were from. When the woman told me "South Africa", I felt that familiar ache somewhere in my heart, as always. I suddenly experienced an intensely emotional moment that lasted several seconds.

And after I left there, my heart and mind told me to write something about South Africa. After a few days, I knew what to write about: The Mythological Waters of South Africa.

Water is a vital resource in many African cultures, and it often holds symbolic meaning beyond its practical uses. The people of many water-scarce regions tell many water stories, even though they have no contact with the sea. Despite this absence of tangible water bodies, there was never a shortage of stories pertaining to water spirits believed to reside in different bodies of water like oceans, rivers, dams, and even swamps.

There are stories and legends that tell how many water spirits influence and possess people. Some spirits manifest themselves in good ways and some in bad ways. If there is a body of water or a dam around you, even if it is small, children are advised to stay away from it. If they get too close, evil water spirits can possess them and trap them deep under the water. Mami Wata is one of the most popular--and powerful--African water spirits. She is most often portrayed as a mermaid, though she has other forms. Mami Wata heals the sick and brings good luck to her followers. I’d never heard of Mami Wata, yet she is widely acknowledged in most of sub-Saharan Africa. Mami Wata is usually female, frequently taking the form of a mermaid, often with a serpent wrapped around her with its head between her breasts. She is often depicted as having a mirror, which symbolically is meant to represent this side and the other side, or the real world and the spiritual world. Not surprisingly, she takes on different names in different places. However, the name Mami Wata or minor variants appear everywhere.

Intrigued, I started reading about her.

As with many beliefs from areas with few written records, there is little consistency. She takes on different forms in different places, and her powers differ from one place to another. She is respected and feared, and has a balance between a dark, divine, mysterious, and angelic existence.

Mami Wata appears in the oral histories of early African societies. The Dogon’s creation myth tells the stories of Mami Wata and traces her existence to more than 4000 years ago. Mesopotamian myths also tell of the great water goddess in their story of creation. There she was known as Mami Aruru - the creator of life. As far as I can see, all African cultures regard her as the guardian of water, and some cultures don’t fish or swim on certain days to give her a chance to rest.

The Tokoloshe, a creature deeply rooted in Xhosa mythology, finds its dwelling place in the mythic landscapes of South Africa. While various descriptions of the Tokoloshe’s physical attributes exist, a consistent characteristic is its diminutive size. At times, it is portrayed as a small humanoid figure, while in other instances, its appearance leans towards a more primate-like form. This enigmatic being possesses a duality, oscillating between malevolence and benevolence in the narratives of folklore.

Notoriously mischievous and potentially dangerous, the Tokoloshe wreaks havoc by engaging in actions such as stealing souls, biting off toes, and inflicting illness upon unsuspecting individuals. However, there exists a contrasting dimension where the Tokoloshe can be invoked for benevolent purposes, serving as a means to scare children or protect against malevolent spirits. Depicted as a dwarf-like creature, the Tokoloshe is characterized by its hairy exterior, long claws, and luminous eyes, creating an eerie and unsettling visage.

Most African children grow up with these stories. They never underestimate the power of water. They both fear it and believe in its positive power. For example, in Zimbabwe, people keep special water bottles in their homes. They believed that they protected the house by sprinkling these waters around the house at certain times.

A story that is in the top five of the most well-known South African mythological stories caught my attention. My extensive and in-depth research on this story is continuing, but I would like to tell you briefly about it here.

The wild coast is Xhosa territory, the birthplace of Nelson Mandela and an area steeped in history and stories. The impressive Hole in the Wall has a giant opening carved through its centre by the relentless pounding of the waves. The local Xhosa call the place “iziKhaleni”, which means “place of thunder” after the thunderous clap of the waves heard sometimes during high tide. According to Xhosa folklore, however, the Hole in the Wall is the gateway to their ancestors.

Legend tells the story of a beautiful girl who lived near the lagoon. She would sit on the edge of the cliff and stare out to the sea. Unlike her people who were land people and feared the sea, she was attracted to its power and the way in which each wave was different. And so, one night, she went beyond the cliff to the shore of the sea. Out of the waves came one of the sea people. He was as tall as she was, with silky flowing hair like the waves. He had supple wrists and ankles and flipper-like hands and feet. He said he had watched her often and admired her, and now he had come because he wanted her to be his wife.

The girl told her father about the man from the sea but her father would have none of it and shouted “We do not trade our daughters with sea people!” and forbade her from ever seeing him again. But the girl slipped away in the dark to meet up with her sea lover and told him of her father’s response. Her sea lover said she must wait until high tide to see how he would prove his love for her. This she did, with the suspicious villagers following her. The villagers saw thin willowy sea people on top of the cliff carrying a mighty fish that they used to batter the rock, carving a hole through the centre of the cliff and creating a passage from the lagoon to the open sea. With the force of the tide behind it, a great spout of water gushed through the Hole in the Wall, and on the wave came hundreds of sea people singing and shouting with joy. Riding the wave in front of them was the girl’s sea lover. He stretched out his arms and the girl moved to join him. As the wave retreated, foaming and frothing, the girl went with the sea people back through the hole in the rock wall and was never seen again.

According to Xhosa people, on nights when the tide is high, the sea people can be heard above the roar of the waves as they rush through the Hole in the Wall in their search for a bride.